Half-term re­port card

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - C O Mm E N T A R Y - Ajai Shukla, in Busi­ness Stan­dard

The mil­i­tary has started 2017 with a fresh slate on sev­eral fronts. The Army and the Air Force both have new Chiefs, an op­por­tu­nity for fresh ideas and ap­proaches. There is hope that the mil­i­tary could soon get its first Tri-ser­vice com­man­der, cre­at­ing badly needed syn­ergy be­tween the Army, Navy and Air Force. Across the bor­der, Pak­istan too has a new Army Chief, who seems less in­clined to grand­stand, and ap­pears to un­der­stand that ten­sions with In­dia dis­tract his mil­i­tary from more ur­gent pri­or­i­ties. Look­ing fur­ther out, as a new US Pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump, out­lines his poli­cies to­wards Rus­sia and China, New Delhi will have to tack to new head­winds from that Great Power tri­an­gle.

The BJP man­i­festo had promised spe­cific mea­sures to strengthen ex­ter­nal de­fence. The im­por­tant ones in­cluded: (a) Re­form­ing de­fence equip­ment pro­cure­ment, sup­port ser­vices and or­gan­i­sa­tional func­tion­ing; (b) Mod­ernising the armed forces by fast-track­ing de­fence pro­cure­ment; and in­creas­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment spend­ing to de­velop in­dige­nous tech­nolo­gies; ( c) Ad­dress­ing man­power short­ages ( which ac­tu­ally ex­ist only at the of­fi­cer level), in­clud­ing by mak­ing Short Ser­vice Commission more at­trac­tive; (d) En­sur­ing the mil­i­tary plays a larger role in de­fence min­istry de­ci­sion mak­ing; (e) Deal­ing firmly with cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism, in­clud­ing by im­proved bor­der man­age­ment; (f) Im­prov­ing mil­i­tary jus­tice, by re­form­ing Armed Forces Tri­bunals (AFTs) and min­imis­ing gov­ern­ment ap­peals against ad­verse court ver­dicts.

The long-de­layed De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pol­icy of 2016 (DPP-2016) has some in­no­va­tion, such as the pref­er­en­tial pro­cure­ment cat­e­gory of ‘In­dian De­signed, De­vel­oped and Manufactured’, which would dis­tin­guish truly ‘Made in In­dia’ equip­ment from kit that ac­tu­ally has a for­eign ad­dress to its in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. Yet, DPP-2016 is by no means the crisp, re­sult- ori­ented hand­book that Par­rikar wanted to lib­er­ate pro­cure­ment from cum­ber­some, dead-end pro­ce­dure. In­stead DPP-2016, like its pre­de­ces­sors from 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013, re­mains a weightlifter’s tool and a bu­reau­crat’s de­light, filled with op­por­tu­ni­ties for de­lay­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of vi­tally needed equip­ment.

In­stead of ram­ming through change like the go-get­ter he is, Par­rikar has tied his own hands by plac­ing re­form at the mercy of nu­mer­ous com­mit­tees. First, the Dhiren­dra Singh Com­mit­tee, headed by a for­mer gov­ern­ment sec­re­tary, pro­duced a 264-page re­port on de­fence pro­cure­ment re­form, in­clud­ing Mr Modi’s slo­gan-of-the-mo­ment, ‘Make in In­dia’. Then, to im­ple­ment the Com­mit­tee’s cen­tral rec­om­men­da­tion on nom­i­nat­ing pri­vate sec­tor ‘Strate­gic Part­ners’ (SPs), who would be the au­to­matic, go-to man­u­fac­tur­ers in their var­i­ous fields (air­craft, he­li­copters, war­ships, ar­moured ve­hi­cles, etc), the VK Aa­tre Task Force was set up. To this day, not a sin­gle SP has been cre­ated, even as for­eign aero­space ven­dors like Boe­ing and Saab wait be­wil­dered, won­der­ing when they will know which In­dian com­pany would be nom­i­nated as SP for man­u­fac­tur­ing air­craft in In­dia. In­stead, ev­ery project goes through a com­plex ten­der­ing process that in­evitably means in­def­i­nite de­lay.

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